The Monday Roundup: Vegas tragedy, unhealthy free parking, no love for sharrows, and more

Posted by on December 14th, 2020 at 10:37 am

Welcome to Monday. Here are the most noteworthy items we’ve come across in the past seven days…

This week’s Monday Roundup is sponsored by Splendid Cycles Big Year End Sale where you can get great deals on excellent electric bike brands.

Hooper turned bike advocate: Former NBA star, commentator and bike-loving Instagrammer Reggie Miller has been named to the USA Cycling Board of Directors.

Injustice and Fallon Smart: The case of Abdulrahman Noorah, the man who killed teenager Fallon Smart as she walked across Hawthorne Blvd and then was freed from U.S. custody by the Saudi government, remains in the spotlight as 60 Minutes made it the lead of a recent episode.

Clean transportation: Former Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick co-wrote an editorial in The Oregonian calling for the PDX Clean Energy Fund to be used on green transportation like bikeways and EV subsidies.

Free parking at the hospital: An opinion article in the BMJ, a vaunted medical journal, argues that free car parking for hospital staff is an unhealthy and misguided policy because it hurts people who don’t own cars.

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No love for sharrows: I have a feeling that this comprehensive and epic takedown of sharrows will be linked to for many years.

Climate and health: In a new report on Climate Change, leaders of the Oregon Health Authority say increasing transportation options that reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a crucial step toward improving the lives of Oregonians most at risk of wildfires and other environmental disasters.

The anger is real: Venerable, Portland-based transit consultant Jarrett Walker wants you to know he’s “furious” at how Congress is crippling big-city transit agencies and that it’s OK for you to feel this way too (even if you can’t say it publicly).

Listen to NACTO: An association of city transportation officials said immediate aid to city transit agencies and a fundamental update of America’s transportation vision should be among the top priorities of the Biden-Harris administration.

Paris inspiration: Latest episode of the War on Cars podcast interviews a top transportation policymaker from Paris on how that city has moved the needle for cycling at such blinding speed.

Horror in Vegas: A vigil was held over the weekend for five people killed while bicycling on a rural highway in Las Vegas. They were struck by the errant driver of a box truck who first ran into the riders’ follow-car.

Video of the Week: CNBC went in-depth on what the bike boom means for urban transportation in this surprisingly detailed video for a mainstream outlet (and it also features PSU researcher Jennifer Dill):

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eawriste
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eawriste

Not able to access the entire study, and it is only one, but the TRB study on sharrows is helpful to show how few drivers notice them, how poor they are at inducing more bike riders, and how detrimental to safety the data suggests. Since the vast majority of PBoT’s infrastructure is based on neighborhood greenways, this is a great indicator of how effective PBoT has become in raising modal share, and increasing safety. Thus far we have 51 people dead this year (near record), and a steady drop in modal share for a good decade from 7+ to 5%. Had PBoT taken a different approach, removed parking and installed PBLs, the outcome for the last decade would have been much different.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

What do you think would have happened to mode share had PBOT done nothing? You seem to be implying that the greenways are somehow responsible for fewer people riding. I believe that mode share would have fallen no matter what; it is certainly counterintuitive to blame improved bike infrastructure for a decline in bike ridership.

I think we need to look at broader societal factors, including the behavior of people who have moved here in the past decade. It is very hard to argue that the overall riding environment is worse now than it was in the 2000s.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

It’s possible Vancouver, BC can give us an idea of what Portland could become. Vancouver had very nearly the same infrastructure 10 years ago. Almost no PBLs. Instead of building shared bike boulevards as Portland has focused on, they built PBLs on commercial streets. Bike trips to work have doubled in the last 5 years from 6.6 to 11.9%. A comparison of bike infrastructure in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

You’ve offered an explanation* of why bike riding has not exploded in Portland — ridership correlates to selected types infrastructure — but if that were the driving factor, ridership here would have improved a little, or at least stayed level as our infrastructure improved (which it unquestionably has).

Yet here, for some reason, riding rates have fallen. How do you account for that?

*Not a terribly convincing one; according to your data, Vancouver has 16 miles of PBLs whereas Portland has 6. Yet during the cycling hayday in Portland, we had none (or close to it). When we built PBLs, and ridership fell, whereas when Vancouver did, ridership rose. And is 6 vs 16 really enough to account for our very different ridership trajectories? There must be other significant factors at work.

Zach
Guest
Zach

It’s not the numbers of miles that matters, it’s whether those PBLs take you to your destination and whether they all connect in a cohesive network (y’know, like we expect car lanes and sidewalks to do). Those are the “other significant factors at work” that you’re referring to.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Are you suggesting 16 miles somehow connects a city that has thousands of miles of paved roads while adding PBL, regular bike lanes, etc somehow made it harder to ride in Portland?

Some of the protected infrastructure in Portland gets downright crowded when the weather is perfect. And the exact same infrastructure is desolate as soon as weather or darkness are added. Even on BP, a lot people think of rain as a hardship.

The message that cycling is the best way around, and all we have to do to make it work is change everything is a road to nowhere.

Zach
Guest
Zach

The weather in Amsterdam (or Paris, or Copenhagen…) is pretty identical to Portland, temperature and rain-wise. If you make it as safe, comfortable, and convenient to bike as these cities have done, more people will ride. The transformation is happening in Paris right now: https://twitter.com/BrentToderian/status/1336570166788775936

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Yep. Make it safe and modal share skyrockets.

Zach
Guest
Zach

Most people just won’t understand this until it happens in front of their own eyes.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Portland made it more safe, and modal share plunged. What accounts for that?

Zach
Guest
Zach

You seem to be ignoring what I said about the need for a complete network with direct access to destinations. Imagine if <5% of Portland streets had sidewalks, and PBOT built six miles of sidewalks, but in a patchwork of .5-mile bits all over town—and none on commercial streets where people actually want to go. Would you really be surprised if more people didn't start walking?

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Allow me to rephrase. Please explain why no network produces significantly higher ridership than a partial network.

Zach
Guest
Zach

Correlation does not equal causation.

Perhaps a higher percentage of people felt safe riding in the street before Portland’s recent population boom, because people drove slower and there were fewer overall cars on the road.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Perhaps. I’ve been riding the streets of Portland pretty heavily since the early 1990s, and my perception is that, until recently at least, things had become much safer, due to improved infrastructure and better driver behavior. But I can’t speak for others.

I do not claim that improving infrastructure has no impact on ridership. But I do believe that that is at best a partial explanation for what we’re seeing, and I am very skeptical of your claims that it is a panacea. If we add 10 more miles of PBLs will ridership rates double as a result? I doubt it, especially while whatever else is depressing ridership continues to do its work.

Zach
Guest
Zach

> If we add 10 more miles of PBLs will ridership rates double as a result?

To reiterate the point I’ve been making: If those 10 miles creates useful, direct connections between popular destinations (e.g. all of SE 50th, all of Hawthorne, and all of MLK so that you can bike in a PBL from East Portland to virtually anywhere in the inner eastside), a significant increase in cycling will occur.

If it’s 10 miles of PBLs scattered throughout the city (four blocks here, ten blocks there, no cohesive network and little/no PBLs going directly to shops and restaurants), then ridership is much more likely to remain constant, decrease, or marginally increase.

PS: An amazing example of this is the bike boom in NYC, which has had a growing network of PBLs on major streets since 2008-ish (although still nowhere NEAR enough to get everywhere you’d want to go): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9pC3BYGGIU

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I understand you to be arguing that the reason that rates of cycling have fallen as we have been building better and better infrastructure is because external factors, such as more newcomers driving, have depressed ridership more than infrastructure has grown it (and I’ll note this is not so different than my contention that cycling has fallen out of fashion in today’s Portland).

This could well be true. And if it is, it is probably more important to address the depressing factors rather than imagine we can out-build them, especially at a time when cycling is losing its constituency, money is tight, and PBOT has, quite predictably, forgotten about the goals it set as part of its ambitious bike plan.

Zach
Guest
Zach

> as we have been building better and better infrastructure

If the protected infrastructure doesn’t form a complete network—in the same way that sidewalks need to take you *everywhere* you want to go, not just scattered around willy nilly—it isn’t much better than no infrastructure at all.

If you’re genuinely curious about the question you’re asking—”why aren’t more people riding?”—and not just trolling, I would suggest you try to conceive of protected bike lanes as sidewalks for bikes. We take sidewalks for granted, but they’re basically “protected walking lanes,” and all of the principles of good sidewalks (separated from cars, forms a complete network, direct access to destinations) applies to good bike infrastructure.

X
Guest
X

Look at other things that might be different. Lower income people are flushed out of the city. More families with children? Recreational activity? I’m just guessing. Point is, bike infrastructure is not the only variable.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Likely because the person at PBOT who was responsible for placing the sharrows was doing it for “show” and pretty randomly chose streets to paint them on regardless if they were actually used by cyclists or not. (as told to me by a PBOT insider)
Maybe if there had been some real thought and planning into the placement of the sharrows use might be more.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Over here in Bend, sharrows are burgeoning exponentially. You are right, the City does not announce them, does not sign them, just paints them. I think it is the City’s way of avoiding the real issue of cyclists’ safety. My experience is that drivers pay zero attention to them, unless the cyclist takes the whole lane and impedes their progress. Most of the sharrowed lanes are only a block or two, so I have yet to see, or have real conflict with cars. But, if you are a slow, unassertive rider, they are worse than nothing and provide a false sense of security.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Safe, comfortable, convenient = short distances on flat ground during good weather. Which is exactly what we see in the summer.

So if we simply get rid of the weather and darkness, people will continue to ride trivial distances on showcase infrastructure. Shrink the distances people have to travel and get rid of the hills, then even more will join!

Zach
Guest
Zach
David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Arguments about what types of expensive facilities PBOT should have done are pointless when PBOT has had no money for such bike infrastructure since at least 2008 (except ironically in East Portland, and only then with state and federal subsidies.) The gas tax revenue was “spent” long before it was collected or budgeted, and with ridiculous controversies over relatively minor diverters, there has never been much traction on PBLs and PBIs. Unless and until Portland residents are willing to tax themselves at a much higher level such as adopting a local sales tax, Portland will continue to only see slow incremental growth of its bike network.

Chris
Guest
Chris

This is a frustration of mine. Portland needs to come up with its own sources of funding for projects. Portland is the most progressive part of the state. If local residents are unwilling to fund them how do we expect the rest of the state to support them.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Yeah they need a clear funding source sure. IDK, I’m sure they could use more, but they had more than 200 million in their capital budget last year. If they wanted to build a 10 mile network of PBLs, it would get done in a year.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Yes, the budget CIP (Capital Improvement Program) is riddled with silly non-bike stuff like sidewalks and sidewalk ramps ($10 Mil), streetcar equipment ($10 Mil), adding shoulders to semi-rural roads on Alderwood, Columbia and Cornfoot, LIDs (where property owners agree to tax themselves extra to buy improvements), $15 Mil for Powell-Division HCT, a $10 mil I-84 ped bridge named for a congressman who isn’t quite dead yet, over $20 mil for projects in East Portland which isn’t even in Portland of course, lots of useless ped greenways (70s, 100s, 150s, 4M, Ned Flanders Memorial, Capitol Highway), etc etc.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

It’s not just a funding issue. If you could wave a magic wand and didn’t have to worry about money, what would this magical system look like?

The space for all these protected lanes has to come from somewhere. Where the roads are narrow, this means condemning property and paving over what little green is left. How are you going to address the constant conflict points since that’s where most crashes occur?

And even if we had this magic fully protected infrastructure where people could go the entire distance door to door, you still have the problem of covering the distance — often with kids, stuff, or physical disability.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

It would, just like “protected walking lanes” as Zach so eloquently reimagined, be a network on existing commercial streets (eg E Broadway, Hawthorne, Sandy). The space would largely come from what is currently used as free private property storage areas or “car parking.” Here is how the general development occurred in the Netherlands, which focused on highway building until the 70s. Build a safe network of PBLs and bike modal share skyrockets.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

In other words, just change the entire infrastructure down to the bump out crosswalks and get all the cars off the road, and people will suddenly start cycling long distances?

BTW, Netherlands is flat and distances are WAY shorter than here. Might need to significantly shorten most peoples’ commutes, distances to stores, etc.

What’s your explanation for why no one rides in when it’s cold, rainy, dark, etc? Even here, people seem to think it’s hard core to be in totally normal conditions.

I personally have been very much enjoying the bike infrastructure lately — I prefer running in bike lanes to roads or sidewalks where surfaces/sightlines are excellent I don’t have to dodge cars, peds, or even bikes 🙂

Scott Kocher
Guest

Portland’s abandonment of commercial streets for biking is striking. When inner SE Division and NW 23rd (south of Lovejoy) were reconstructed, there were no bike facilities provided—even though the Ped and Bike Bill required them.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Facilities were provided on “nearby parallel streets” where available (Clinton & Lincoln for Division, 22nd for 23rd), but part of Division from 60th to 82nd did in fact gain bike lanes.

Scott
Subscriber
Scott

This has long been my observation. I moved to Portland in 1993 and the ability to bike to work was a major factor. I found many friends with similar values with regard to transportation and low car living. The demographics of those moving here has clearly changed over the years. Portland is much more expensive and more recent young transplants arrive with higher paying jobs and have more money. I see this in declines in the bike community and the creative community. It saddens, but does not surprise me.

Zach
Guest
Zach

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this. Amsterdam is one of the wealthiest cities in the world (certainly moreso than Portland), and has a strong creative community.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Also many other US cities gained more and nicer bike facilities as more wealth and younger people moved in, particularly in Pittsburgh, DC, Charlotte, Raleigh, Minneapolis, and New Orleans. Like Amsterdam, and unlike Portland, these cities’ residents were ready and willing to tax themselves extra to pay for such improvements, and elected younger city council members who had the will to move forward on the projects against the usual opposition.

Adam in SE PDX
Guest
Adam in SE PDX

I’d never seen video of the Saudi driver who slaughtered Fallon Smart as he was cruising down Hawthorne at 70 mph. Such a vile person.

The Saudi regime is vile through and through. Bin Laden and fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, yet we made war on the Iraqis with Saudi help. Our presidents and congresses from FDR on through Trump have decided the Saudis are just too strategically important. Our government would have us accept all these crimes perpetrated against Americans on American soil so we can keep the drones killing poor Yemenis and the black-tar heroin of Saudi oil flowing to our highways.

“But MbS is kind of letting some women drive cars now!” *eye roll*

I think Biden would find a lot of domestic support by sticking it to the Saudis any chance he could get. I wonder if it would be too much for Biden to secure an extradition treaty so we can get justice for Fallon Smart and dozens of other Americans. I’d be fine with banning Saudis from studying in the US until an extradition treaty is in force and the current list of fugitives have been returned to face their accusers in court.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

If we weren’t addicted to oil, we wouldn’t care about international oil prices, and we wouldn’t have to capitulate to these monsters. Everyone who uses oil is part of the problem here.

Also, we’ve done the exact same thing to other countries, many times. This is just the most recent example:
https://www.npr.org/2020/11/24/938484442/parents-of-man-killed-in-u-k-crash-lose-their-challenge-to-u-s-diplomatic-immuni

Pruss2ny
Guest
Pruss2ny

“Everyone who uses oil…”

So….everyone. Everyone is to blame is what you are saying

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

“But the oil!” is an oft-parroted excuse for US involvement all over the Middle East. The reality is most of our oil comes from Canada. Saudi Arabia is a small portion of our oil imports and a negligible portion of our exports (link). It’s just not true to suggest that 6% of a market with many suppliers is the primary driver of our foreign policy decisions. Incidents like Jamal Khashoggi and the current example are painful, but Saudi Arabia is an ally and significant economic partner stretching over multiple decades, and they’re geographically important to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, not to mention stability within the wider region.

A US diplomat’s wife killed a UK teenager not that long ago. Should the UK ban study exchange programs with us until she’s extradited?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Your comparison of the UK case with the Fallon case is fully justified, though the circumstances and issues of guilt by the accused are rather different. The US did spirit her out before charges could be laid and has since refused to extradite her (or even try her; since she stayed at the crash scene, she likely would have never been charged had it been in the USA, but the British have different standards when it comes to fatal car crashes and sober foreigners going the wrong way on public roads, even those next to US air bases). https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/crm5ewyvz96t/harry-dunn-crash

As for the oil, even if we imported no oil, we are still concerned for our allies like Japan or Germany who have to import nearly all of theirs.

Lucy W
Guest
Lucy W

While I don’t think sharrows are perfect, I do think (at least as implemented in Portland) they’re helpful. I still see people biking on the sidewalk even on neighborhood streets, but see much less of that behavior on streets with sharrows. To me, sharrows clearly indicate that bikes are welcome and prioritized in the street. They also communicate to car users that bikes can take up the whole lane – while I know that’s always true, as a cyclist I’m often afraid to incite road rage if I’m riding in front of a car. I’m much less afraid of that on streets with sharrows, because I feel empowered to be riding in the middle of the street and feel more confident that the car users know that they should be using a different street if they don’t want to be behind bicyclists. I’m not sure how sharrows are implemented in other cities, but the Greenways are at this point widely known and seem (to me) much less trafficked by cars than other similar streets. Granted, Greenways use a lot of other hugely valuable tools, like signage that bikes can take the whole lane and intersections where cars must turn off the Greenway (like Clinton and 32nd).

I totally get that the data doesn’t back me up, and that we need to do more to make sure cyclists are actually safe, not just that we feel safe. But at least in the meantime they make me feel safer .

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

The biggest problem with sharrows is that they do nothing but allow policy makers to pretend like they are doing something to make it easier to take a non-gas powered form of transportation. The vast majority of Portlands “greenways” only have sharrows and no other infrastructure, which effectively makes them normal streets.

The person going 45 down the greenway doesn’t care about the sharrow, nor do they care that bikes are welcome on the street.

It’s like Portland’s “20 is plenty”. It’s a nice thought that you can just beg your way into traffic safety but the reality is that it’s not the 90% of road users going between 20 and 25 mph, it’s the 10% going 45-50 that make people not want to use the greenways.

I’ve also not had the same experience about cut through drivers. N Willamette has plenty people on the street going between N Interstate and N Greeley and even more people cutting through those neighorhoods to avoid N Interstate and N Greeley. N Condord has tons of cars on it every morning and evening and would be even worse if N Going didn’t naturally make it a bad cut through street.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

You are right, in many instances policymakers do use sharrows as a substitute for some other safer infrastructure, to make it seem like they are doing something rather than nothing. But in those same cases, us advocates can then use the sharrowed streets to ask for needed upgrades rather than asking for new safe infrastructure, which is always harder to get implemented and get funding for. Right or wrong, it’s incremental improvements that mostly get done in most US cities – I do wish it was otherwise.

TakeTheLane
Guest
TakeTheLane

I love Sharrows!
I think that they do encourage taking the lane and let the car drivers know to expect to see a cyclist.
Although, I have to admit that I use the sidewalk over the St. Johns bridge during peak traffic hours. I don’t want to mess with drivers driving in excess of the already excessive 35 mph speed limit who feel entitled to not have bicyclists share the road.
I would like to see 4th Avenue downtown covered with Sharrows instead of a protected bike lane that restricts everyone’s movements.

GlenK
Guest
GlenK

This point is well captured by the very last paragraph of that article: “It’s time to relegate sharrows to quiet side streets”. Yep, that’s what they’re for; neighborhood greenways and similar low-volume, low-speed corridors. Trying to put them on busy higher speed roads is a cheap bandaid that shows you don’t actually care about providing a proper cycling solution for that route.

In New Zealand we have been using them for about five years after a series of formal trials across five cities to test their effect on lateral positioning, traffic speeds, road user comprehension (happy to provide the research). The most interesting finding for me was the fact that they reduced mean traffic speeds by 1-3 mph; a small but not insignificant safety effect. The national guidelines for using sharrows here are based on a combination of traffic volumes and auto/bike speed differentials; basically if they’re too high then you don’t use them – consider something else (or make some changes to the street to reduce speed and/or volume). As a result they are mostly used for neighborhood greenways with 30kmh (19mph) speed limits and <1500 vehs/days.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Mode split is driven by cost. With low cost fuel and mostly free parking, its tough to grow bike mode share, let along transit. How do fuel costs in Vancouver BC compare to ours here? When Lloyd District went from free parking and full price transit to paid parking and reduced price transit, mode splits flipped!
I do remember when we were putting together the Tillamook bikeway in the 90’s we had photos of what was done in Vancouver, and we had visions of “sugar plums!”…big signs, diverters, and such to spell out Tillamook as a “Bike Street!” Nothing came of it…well, after 10 years we got PBOT’s “bike dots,” then after 10 more, the sharrow markings and finally speed humps, but its still virtually invisible to most motorist…except when a lot of folks are biking it and filling the street. Just no guts at PBOT when it comes to bikes.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Parking costs in Vancouver are also high, but more important, in BC law, the local bicycle advisory committee has to sign off on all local transportation projects – imagine the political clout the BAC would have with such a law – even influential people would try to get a seat on it.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I’m frankly confused by the Jarret Walker letter – he’s clearly upset by congress, specifically the Senate, but he’s totally unclear what they’ve done or haven’t done. What am I missing here? I’ve read it twice and I still don’t get it. Is it a specific policy? Not enough funding? What???

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Not providing enough operating funding for transit. Transit organizations and cities can’t run deficits. Much of the cost of public transit is fixed (capital, bonds, maintenance). Plus, if they get rid of drivers and routes, it will be hard to add them back in.